The Boston Red Sox are firmly planted in the American League East cellar, and most Boston fans are now setting their sights on next year and beyond. The future looks bright for the Red Sox, who have a number of top prospects moving through the minor league ranks.
Christian Vazquez has already taken over the starting catcher role in Boston, and outfielder Mookie Betts and pitcher Anthony Ranaudo recently made splashes with the big club as well. Left-hander Henry Owens' dazzling debut for the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox (6.2 IP, 9 K, 2 H, 0 ER) generated a lot of buzz this week, as did catcher Blake Swihart's promotion to the Paw Sox.
However, the franchise also has several other quality young players down on the farm who haven't been making headlines. Here are the top three Red Sox prospects that no one is talking about.
Rafael Devers, Third Base, Gulf Coast League Red Sox
Rafael Devers currently ranks as the No. 4 overall prospect in the Red Sox organization according to SoxProspects.com and No. 8 in MLB.com's Red Sox Prospect Watch. But the fact that he's playing in rookie ball has kept him in relative anonymity.
Boston signed Devers out of the Dominican Republic last year, and the 6'0", 195-pound third baseman is still just 17 years old. Devers began his pro career this season with the Dominican Summer League Red Sox and promptly hit .337 with a .445 on-base percentage and a .538 slugging percentage through 104 at-bats.
On July 4, he was promoted to the Gulf Coast League after only 28 games in the DSL, and since that time, Devers' hot bat hasn't cooled off in the slightest. Over 103 at-bats in the GCL, he's posted a .340 average, a .400 OBP and a .563 slugging percentage. Devers has also driven in 31 runs in just 28 games. Those numbers were good enough to earn him SoxProspects.com's July Player of the Month honors.
Devers' incredibly young age and low level in the minors suggest he is still a long ways away from making an appearance in Boston. But with Xander Bogaerts' return to shortstop, there is no long-term plan in place for the Red Sox at third base—Devers could be a staple at the position in Boston's future.
Brian Johnson, Pitcher, Portland Sea Dogs
The Red Sox selected Brian Johnson with the 31st pick in the first round of the 2012 draft. The former University of Florida lefty stands 6'3", weighs 235 pounds and is now in his third year in Boston's system.
Johnson is putting up some eye-popping numbers for the Double-A Sea Dogs this season, but he has often escaped notice by being in Henry Owens' shadow. With Owens now in Triple-A, Johnson is the undisputed ace of Portland's staff.
The 23-year-old began the year in High-A Salem but was promoted after going 3-1 in five starts. Through 17 outings for the Sea Dogs, Johnson has a 9-2 record, a 1.89 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP. He's also held opposing hitters to just a .203 batting average.
Via John Torres of FloridaToday.com, Johnson said his success this season is in part due to a chat he had in spring training with former Red Sox great Pedro Martinez:
The biggest thing [Martinez] said was to get the ball out of my glove early when I'm throwing my changeup. It gives you a chance to get your arm up and keep the same arm speed as your fastball. I think that's what helped take my changeup to the next level this year.
WEEI's Alex Speier wrote the following after Johnson's most recent start:
He was in complete control throughout the outing, showing an unpredictable pitch mix that once again left his opponents unbalanced, even in the absence of huge swing-and-miss numbers (according to MiLB.com's GameDay, he had seven). ... His advanced execution continues to impress evaluators as the stuff of a future big league starter, with a fairly straightforward projection of a pitcher with a four-pitch mix and the ability to carve the strike zone that suggests a ceiling of a No. 3 starter.
The Red Sox dealt away ace left-hander Jon Lester at the trade deadline, but with both Owens and Johnson tearing up the minor leagues, they may have another one soon ready to take his place.
Manuel Margot, Center Field, Greenville Drive
Like Devers, the Red Sox signed Manuel Margot as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic. Now playing for Low-A Greenville, the 19-year-old is in the midst of his third professional season. SoxProspects.com lists Margot as the franchise's 11th-best prospect, while MLB.com has him at No. 9.
In 340 at-bats for the Drive this year, Margot is hitting .274 with a .345 OBP. His biggest asset, however, is his speed—Margot has 36 stolen bases in 92 games. At 5'11" and 170 pounds, Margot is showing solid power for a player of his small stature, belting nine home runs so far this season.
On July 16, Speier wrote: "The 19-year-old is one of 24 players in all of minor league baseball with 30 or more steals. Of those two dozen players, Margot is tied for the lead in home runs with eight."
Greenville manager Darren Fenster moved Margot up to the top spot in the batting order on July 31, and the speedster has responded by going 12 for his last 29, a .414 clip.
From Myron Hosea of Greenville Online, Fenster said of Margot: "He’s been one of our more consistent guys. He’s developed enough to where we felt comfortable enough throwing him up there in the leadoff spot. He’s ready for the challenge of being a leadoff guy."
The Red Sox already have Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts lined up as potential center fielders going forward. However, the struggles of Boston's outfield this season (a collective .243 batting average) suggest an overabundance of talent at the position might be beneficial.
Devers, Johnson and Margot won't be in the major leagues this year, and probably not in 2015 either. In all likelihood, the two Dominicans are still a few seasons away. But along with the more well-known core of Red Sox prospects, they represent a very solid foundation for Boston fans to get excited about in the wake of a disappointing 2014.